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Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Sipping Saddam's tea in Mali
Lara Pawson gives her first impressions after arriving in Mali from the Ivory Coast to report for the BBC.

Mali, bordered by seven other countries, has a vast territory and is entirely land-locked.

'Saddam gunpowder' tea
Malians drink large quantities of tea to help keep cool
A great chunk of it is in the great Sahara desert and running horizontally across the southern half of it is the River Niger, where hippopotami swim.

Mali is also home to some of the best musicians in the world and her culture is said to be among the richest on this planet.

It produces gold, cotton and a number of fantastic footballers.

I came to Bamako from Abidjan to the south where the mention of Mali is always followed by a discussion about heat.

Red dust

Even Malians who have migrated south speak about Bamako's unbearable temperatures in foreboding tones.

Now I am here, I can confirm that Bamako is hot, so hot that sometimes, and I am not joking, you almost feel cold.

This is thanks to the dry air here which allows your sweat to evaporate with impressive efficiency.

The other great bonus that Mali has over her southern neighbour, is the light breeze which blows over your body, leaving your skin tingling.

But the breeze comes at a price. With the wind comes red dust - billions and billions of particles of red earth coat the entire city.

You could clean your home 100 times, and you would never wipe away all the red dust.

The dust is felt on your hands, in your hair, and in your throat - my voice has dropped an octave, I am sure, since arriving in Bamako.

'Saddam's gunpowder'

Maybe it is the red dust which makes Malians dedicate so much time to making tea?

Men perch on low stools, a tea pot in one hand, a delicate glass in the other, carefully they pour 'Saddam's gunpowder tea' from the pot to the glass, the glass to the pot - with seemingly endless patience.

The reward is a sharp dose of this intriguingly named tea mixed with a large spoonful of the sweetest sugar.

When the sun has sunk to the West, the armies of mosquitoes come out for their night's work.

Football funs in Mali
Mali has produced some great footballers
And if you sit very quietly, you might hear the delicate hooves of Arab stallions as they canter along the red earth roads. Racing is said to be popular in Mali and they certainly have the horses to show.

Passion for sport is evident throughout this city.

Football fans who can't afford a ticket in the stadium go to great lengths to watch a match - such as scaling a bold sandstone escarpment to find a "free" seat on small, rocky ridges at the top.

These are not for the faint-hearted or those who suffer from vertigo.

Personally, I hope to dedicate my spare time to learning Bambara, the national language alongside French.

In Mali, it seems that if you don't speak at least some Bambara, you will never really be able to get stuck into life here.

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Timeline: Mali
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Country profile: Mali
12 Mar 04  |  Country profiles

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